An argument from beauty

Today, I had an Ethics and faith lesson with our school father (I go to an Anglican school) and he reminded me of an argument that I have been hearing for a long time. It’s actually three arguments, the first is, “Why is there something rather than nothing?”, the second is “Why do humans and other animals exist?”, and the third is “The earth is so beautiful, it can’t have happened by chance.”His answer to all of these questions is that there must be a supreme being or god who designed it intentionally for us, so it is beautiful and appealing to us. All of these arguments are of the kind ‘post hoc, ergo propter hoc’, and I have covered that in my brief of logical fallacies which can be found on the home page. I will answer these questions in my blog post today.

The first argument, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” This can be explained easily with chance. Simply, there is only one way in which there is nothing, null and void, but there are infinite ways in which something can exist, and seeing that 1/∞ = 0, (1/2 = 0.5… 1/10 = 0.1… 1/100 = 0.01) it just has to happen. No god is needed to explain everything because something must happen. It would be more surprising if there was nothing, and we would need to have a god to explain it, but there would be nobody around to ask the question, and that leads me to the next argument.

“Why do humans and other animals exist?” This is the second question asked by my Ethics and Faith teacher. He says that there must be a god who put life on a planet to explain this. There isn’t a need for this. It has been estimated that there are about 150 billion galaxies in the known universe. There are also anywhere from 10 million to 200 billion stars in a galaxy, I will take an average of 100 billion stars in a galaxy. That comes out at about 15 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 (15 000 billion billion stars.) That means about that many rocky planets, so that means a lot of possibilities for life. The odds are slim for an individual planet, but with that many dice-rolls 10 heads in a row is not un-common.Once there is some sort of self-replicating organism, then evolution takes over and does its thing.

Now, the third argument. “The world is so beautiful, this can’t have happened by chance.” First of all, yes there is beautiful things like rainbows and forests and mountains, but there are equally bad things like some fish species or snakes or spiders and other animals which may kill you, not to mention all of humanities problems. There is as much beautiful stuff as there is not beautiful stuff. This is because the definition of beautiful is ‘the top 50% of things in the world on a scale of beautifulness’. There will always be beautiful things. But just for my teachers sake let’s try and explain why some things are so beautiful. Our subjective grading of what the most beautiful things are is taken from a data set of one.

Say the world was a little less beautiful than what it is, we would still think of the most beautiful things as ‘the most beautiful things’ and the least beautiful things as ‘the least beautiful things.’ If the world was a little more beautiful than what it is, we would still have the same titles for the most beautiful and least beautiful things. We get used to what is beautiful and what is not because we grow up in our world, not another world.

What I’m essentially saying is that things are the way it is because they are the way they are, and we wouldn’t be asking these questions if the world was different. I will leave you with a quote from Richard Dawkins, “The theory of evolution by cumulative natural selection is the only theory we know of that is in principle capable of explaining the existence of organized complexity.” Richard Dawkins, Evolutionary biologist, skeptic, atheist and author of some note.


The meat in our heads

A couple of days ago I made a post about how soon enough computer will take their place next to humans. I would like to expand on a comment I made that the human brain is completely deterministic. This post will be about the human mind and whether we really have any control over our thoughts.

I will start by saying that we are the meat in our heads, everything we think, everything we do, what we do, how we do it and why we do it can all be found inside the brain. Every thought and action by a human can be explained by neurons firing in the brain. There is no ‘ghost in the machine’ as Rene Descartes was lead to believe. There is no need for an extra ‘soul’ to explain our personalities, our actions and our thoughts. This being said, you can alter the way somebody thinks, acts and feels by manipulating parts of the brain through strokes, seizures, brain tumors et cetera. There is a well recorded incident of a man who was a pedophile, and had a brain tumor, his brain tumor was removed and he lost interest in young children, but after a few years the tumor grew back and he went back to pedophilia. A heterosexual man has had a stroke and turned homosexual, and there are many recorded instances of people having severe personality changes.

One must remember not to feel sorry for people like this, they act like they have always been this way. The gay man does not think to himself ‘I wish I was still straight’, because his personality has actually changed and he acts and talks and thinks just like any other gay man.

This is all just proof that what we are, what we feel, taste, think, see, hear, laugh at, cry at, feel love, hatred, anger, compassion, patriotism, is all just what is being constructed in side our heads. I think this is very eye-opening in a sense because it means that we may not be entirely responsible for our actions. I will talk about this at a later date.

everything you think and do, is all thanks to 100 billion of these little babies.

That’s it for now, I will leave you with a quote from Diane Ackerman, “Shaped a little like a loaf of French country bread, our brain is a crowded chemistry lab, bustling with nonstop neural conversations.Imagine the brain, that shiny mound of being, that mouse-gray parliament of cells, that dream factory, that petite tyrant inside a ball of bone, that huddle of neurons calling all the plays, that little everywhere, that fickle pleasure dome, that wrinkled wardrobe of selves stuffed into the skull like too many clothes into a gym bag.” Diane Ackerman, an author, poet and naturalist of some note.

This post is dedicated to Jazza, one of the most skeptical people I know, who asked me for proof that I actually write this blog. He shows the true sign of a skeptic, proof. From tearing up the RE teacher at school and running logical circles around him, to checking and cross-checking his references on his SOSE assignment, I have one message, “be skeptical.”

ESP Researchers looking for invisible keys

Hello fellow skeptics,

I’m sure you have all heard the analogy comparing science to somebody trying to find their keys, and it demonstrates well how people use the process of science quite often in their everyday lives. For those who haven’t heard it though, it goes that when somebody looses their keys, they develop a hypothesis (my keys are under the couch) and then they proceed to test it. (look under the couch.) If their hypothesis was deemed incorrect (the keys weren’t under the couch), then they formulate a new one (the keys are locked in the car). This process is repeated until a suitable hypothesis which holds up to observation, (I found the keys) is found.

Now this is all well and good, but I recently heard this analogy abused by an ESP research proponent. He stated that when you lose your keys, you will keep checking the same place over and over again, ‘just to be sure’. This is his justification for why ESP research should continue to be done.

This is not true, for a couple of reasons. When somebody looses their keys, they first assess the prior probability of the likelihood that they lost their keys there. One does not check at great Aunt Sherle’s house if the last time one went there was when they were 11 for Easter one year. Nor does one check under the couch, if one has already looked 40 times, because every second time they checked they thought they saw something under there. I feel this is the point at which ESP research is at.

Prior probability says its unlikely, but we had a little look, just to make sure. We looked, we found nothing, the general scientific community left it, but a few cranks, nuts and loons stayed behind, convinced that 0.5000002 is worth investing millions of dollars in research. I think its well past time to move on, and the sooner ESP research is brought to a stop, The sooner the money can go to worthy science with real, interesting outcomes.

I will leave you with a quote from Albert Einstein, “Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not to sure about the former.” Albert Einstein, theoretical physicist, master mind behind general relativity, special relativity, and mass-energy equivalence, Nobel prize winner & patent-office clerk of some note.

Robot sonsciousness

Imagine a world where humans live along side computers, self-aware computers, able to make judgement calls, have personalities and think for themselves. Imagine the intelligence of these computers, they would have the problem-solving capability of a human while also being able to remember everything. These computers would be able to recognize malicious software, viruses and bugs. They would be able to design and evaluate science experiments and adjudicate court cases.
But this world would also produce a lot of ethical issues, once a computer has self-awareness, theoretically, it should have its own rights. The question of whether or not people would be able to marry a computer will arise. Imagine how it would feel if your wife divorced you for a computer? It would also probably become illegal to turn off or harm a computer and people would be punished for harming computer like one would if they harmed a human. like-wise, computers would be responsible for their actions, and you may find computers inside prisons alongside people.
Of course, this fictional world is only possible if computers can become self-conscious, and the science on the subject is converging on the fact that it may be possible. Neuroscience is showing that the brain may be completely deterministic, meaning that with sufficiently advanced technology we would be able to replicate a human brain, and that this computer replication would be self-aware.

Watch out, this shifty fella might have his eye on your wife

Now, lets not get ahead of ourselves, there is a long way to go in computing and in Neuroscience before computer chips are quick enough to compute as quickly as the human brain and before we are capable of detecting brain information as well as we can with computers. This computer would also have to be very large to store all of the information in a brain and be able to add information itself so as to store new information which it learns. There would also have to be massive cooling systems on this computer as the heat generated by it would be tremendous.
Obviously we are along way off this stage in computing technology but it will happen eventually and it may be sooner than we think, depending on how organic computers and quantum computers pan out. That’s all for me today, I will leave you with a quote from Arthur C. Clarke, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”, A science-fiction writer, inventor and futurist of some note.

Agnostic Atheist Wager

Today I am going to be making my comments on a response by the atheist community to Pascals Wager, a common religion argument used by christian’s and people of other religions alike. But first, I should give a brief on Pascals wager. Pascals wager is an argument first presented by philosopher Blaise Pascal which shows that it is much better for a person to believe in god than to not believe in a god. It goes along the lines of:
There are two possibilities, either god exists or god doesn’t exist.
Lets say god exists, if you believe he exists, then you get infinite reward in afterlife, if you don’t believe he exists, you loose infinite with hell in the afterlife.
Lets say god doesn’t exist, if you believe he exists, you loose a little bit wasting your time praying etc., if you don’t believe he exists, you win a little bit by not wasting your time praying etc.

Now, when you look at it like that it seems that the obvious choice is to choose to believe in god. But its not quite that simple, there are actually quite a few problems with it.

The biggest one which is what I will talk about is the fact that there are more than one possible ‘god exists’ outcomes, because it could be the christian god, the muslim god, the islam god, zeus, odin, the flying spaghetti monster or the religion of some far flung tribe in south america. This means that belief in the wrong god means that you receive eternal hell-fire even though you thought you could beat the system by believing.

This guy is a genius

The other problem is that the god in question here would be able to see the reasons for your ‘faith’, and may reject you if you only pretend to believe because the odds are good. Believing in a religion only because of pascal’s wager is pretty sly and god would be very happy with your actions.

A response to pascal’s wager put forward by the agnostic atheist community is the AA (atheist agnostic) wager. It states that god would choose somebody’s afterlife fate based on their earthly actions, not on blind faith. This means that the wager can be expanded to the following:
god exists                 |you believe, live a good life, you get heaven.
|you believe, live a bad life, you get hell.
|you don’t believe, live a good life, you get heaven.
|you don’t believe, live a bad life, you get hell.

god does not exist|you believe, live a good life, people like you.
|you believe, live a bad life, people hate you.
|you don’t believe, live a good life, people like you.
|you don’t believe, live a bad life, people hate you.

In this table, living a good life will always result in the best outcome, irrespective of belief. A common rebuttal by religious people is that the god may care whether you believe in him or not, and the answer to this argument is: If this god does exist, and he lets in murderers and nazis if they believe, then hell isn’t looking like a bad place to spend eternity in.

Anyway, that’s all for me. I will leave you with a very pithy quote from one of the greatest skeptics from the last century,

“Extraordinary Claims require extraordinary evidence”

Carl Sagan, astronomer, astrophysicist, cosmologist, author and science popularizer of some note.

Homeopathic college in Australia website review

Hello from me,
I was browsing the internet yesterday, as is the norm, when I stumbled across, which is the official website for the Sydney College of Homeopathic Medicine. It’s sad that what I thought was mostly an English and European pseudoscience has infiltrated Australia. I thought I might go over some of my thoughts on the website.
There is a handy ‘about homeopathy’ tab amongst others which explains the underlying principles of homeopathy. One thing I noticed is that right at the top the website says ‘Homeopathy is a system of medicine based on principles laid down over 200 years ago’ and here is one of the main problems with homeopathy, it’s based on 200 hundred year old crap. It hasn’t changed anything about its philosophy in the last 200 years.
Another claim thrown around commonly in the introduction is that homeopathy is both safe and effective. I agree with half of that statement. Yeah, it’s safe because it’s just water, no, it’s not effective because it’s just water. In the last paragraph the website states that ‘Homeopathy’s effectiveness in a wide range of conditions is increasingly being verified by high quality clinical and laboratory trials (both human and animal)’. This is completely wrong. Homeopathy effectiveness has been proved by poorly designed, non-double-blinded studies which do not control for placebo and the like. Homeopathy has been shown to have no effect when studied using large, rigorous, double-blinded studies.
That’s it on my review of this homeopathic site. I will leave you with a skeptical Quote from Undoubtedly the most famous of all skeptics, James Randi, “I do not expect that homeopathy will ever be established as a legitimate form of treatment, but I do expect that it will continue to be popular.”